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Substitutes on basepath coming to high school diamond

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High school baseball in Indiana is taking a page out of the high school softball rule book.

Beginning this spring, baseball teams will be allowed to use “courtesy runners” for pitchers and catchers. The rule, which has been in place in softball for more than a decade, allows teams to basically pinch-run for pitchers and catchers any time they reach base.

“I think it’s a good idea,” new Columbus North coach Ben McDaniel said. “I think it speeds up the game a little bit if you can courtesy run for the catchers. If there’s two out, you can get your catcher back in the dugout and get him ready for the next inning.”

“I think it could speed up the game,” Columbus East coach Jon Gratz said. “You don’t have to worry about the catcher after he’s out on the basepaths coming in and changing his gear and all that stuff.”

The National Federation of High School Athletics allows the use of courtesy runners for baseball, but leaves the option up to state federations. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association made the proposal to the IHSAA, and the IHSAA executive board approved the use of courtesy runners by a 17-1 vote.

“It’s not anything new, but Indiana had never used it up until now,” said IHSAA assistant commissioner Phil Gardner, who oversees baseball.

“The idea behind it is to speed the game up, and I think the idea more than anything is to get more kids in the game.”

That means speed could be at a premium.

“There’s some strategy to it, depending on the situation and the speed of your catcher,” McDaniel said. “You can shift things in your favor a little bit. I need to put out a bulletin for the fastest kid in our school not running track.”

Gratz won’t have to worry about running for his catcher or most of his pitchers. He already has a fast catcher in senior Christian Wichman.

“For us, our catcher we’ve had the last two years is probably our fastest player, so I don’t know if we’ll be using it a whole lot,” Gratz said. “But I think it has some benefits.”

“I think everybody likes running the bases if you’re fast or slow,” Wichman said.

“I guess it helps speed up the process of the game. Sometimes, I guess it would help with when we get the slower guys on base to save their legs.”

McDaniel said he’s coached in travel baseball tournaments where courtesy runners are optional for pitchers and catchers and some where they’re mandatory for catchers with two outs.

“I understand why they put it in,” North junior catcher Evan Finke said. “I think it’s mainly to speed up the game because if a catcher gets stranded on second base with two out, they have to go back to the dugout and get their shin guards on and everything. If that’s what they’re trying to get out of it, that’s fine. But I don’t have any trouble with running or pinch-running or whatever.”

Finke did most of the catching last season, while classmate Cody Burton played mostly at third base and was the backup catcher. McDaniel said they’re likely to reprise those roles this season.

“They both improved quickness-wise over the summer, and we’re anxious to get them outside after working hard all winter,” McDaniel said.

“(Being lifted for a runner) doesn’t bother me much,” Burton said. “It just gives you more time to get your gear on, so you’re out early to warm up the pitcher up. That’s the main reason for it.”

Coaches could also opt to give pitchers a rest by keeping them off the basepaths if they had reached.

“In high school, most teams’ pitchers are usually some of their better athletes anyway, so a lot of them aren’t going to be pinch run for,” Gratz said. “But I can see it helping for a team that has a catcher in doubleheaders when they start getting a little tired. It’s good to give them a break, I think.”

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